In our journey of impact creation, one of the biggest joys and fulfillment is to work on the grassroots level, together with local communities, farmers, or informal waste workers. As we set out to be the agent of change driving the world towards sustainable solutions, we ensure our impact through direct engagement with our beneficiaries. Our work on the grassroots level is always our anchor and we ensure our approach, solutions, and actions are as inclusive as possible. Why do we choose this path and isn’t there an easier way? The “one-way” desires to make a change fueled by passion and an image of the “ideal” world are simply not enough, especially given the complex issues we are trying to tackle in the environment and climate change. In order to promote sustainability and inclusion, implementers must put themselves in the beneficiaries’ shoes and try to understand the barriers that hinder their willingness to take action as well as the factors that encourage them to adopt the change.
But how can we understand the local communities? How do we make them understand us? What would be the best approach for community development and engagement work? Our blog post series in the upcoming month will focus on experience sharing on the topic of community work that Evergreen Labs has proudly established and accumulated in the past five years in supporting 15 ethnic groups in 80 communities across Vietnam.
Let’s start with the basics: “What is a community?”. Community, in sociology, has an interesting development of definition throughout history (learn more here). However, there are three elements always involved: social interaction, common ties, and area. When the influence of one element dominates the others, it drives the definition of community towards that direction. As such, a community strongly affected by the geographical elements might refer to a place or a neighborhood. When social interactions take over, a community is used to imply a localized system binding social groups and institutions. Alternatively, a community can be created thanks to an invisible bonding among seemingly unrelated individuals like a common identity or a common set of beliefs and practices. Whichever the case is, it requires dedication and sensitivity whilst working with the community. Below are Evergreen Labs’s guiding principles that will hopefully shed some light on the matter to help guide you as you engage with your own communities.
Principle 1: Openness and transparency
Broadly speaking, Openness and Transparency should be core values in all relationship-building efforts, let alone in interactions with communities that are inherently vulnerable. It is a critical principle in establishing trust between the two sides. If you wish to engage the community, you need to persuade them that their participation is worthwhile. Community members should be fully informed of the project, its goals, implications, requirements, expectations, and processes so that they can be the owner of their decision to participate. A public record of the stakeholders such as organizers, sponsors, beneficiaries, etc. should also be provided.
Of course, in most cases, simply providing information does not guarantee participation. A community, despite being bound by their common values, is still a collective of individuals with varied interests, personalities, and backgrounds. Completely (possibly) opposite reactions towards your project are understandable. And this is where openness should kick in. There might be barriers to engagement of a certain group that we were not aware of, and it is important for community workers to listen to unheard voices and willingly address their concerns with the same enthusiasm, even if those are not the ones originally anticipated. Stay tuned for our next article as we continue this discussion on EGL community engagement tips and best practices!